Pope Francis celebrates First Vespers in St Peter’s Basilica

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Saturday celebrated First Vespers for the Solemnity of Mary, the Most Holy Mother of God.

In his homily, the Holy Father reflected on a passage from St Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

These words, the Pope said, “introduce us to God’s plan for us: He wants us to live as His sons and daughters.” Pope Francis said the “logic of the manger” is a logic of “encounter and closeness” that leaves no room for exclusion and division.

Pope Francis invited us all “to contemplate how God has been present throughout this year and to remind ourselves that every age, every moment is the bearer of graces and blessings.”

The ceremony also included the chanting of the Te Deum, traditionally sung at the end of the civil year in Thanksgiving for the blessings of the year.

Following the liturgy, Pope Francis made his way outside the Basilica to the larger-than-life Nativity Scene on display in St Peter’s Square. After spending a few moments in silent prayer, the Holy Father enjoyed a selection of traditional Christmas hymns and carols, and had the opportunity to greet members of the faithful gathered in the Square.

(from Vatican Radio)

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Pope Francis: Homily for First Vespers for Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God

(Vatican Radio) On the final day of the civil year, Pope Francis celebrated First Vespers for the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God in St Peter’s Basilica. The ceremony also included the chanting of the hymn Te Deum in thanksgiving for the blessings of the past year.

Below, please find the official English translation of Pope Francis’ prepared homily for the liturgy:

First Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God,
and Te Deum in Thanksgiving for the Past Year

Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis

Saint Peter’s Basilica
Saturday, 31 December 2016

“When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5).

These words of Saint Paul are powerful.  In a brief and concise way, they introduce God’s plan for us: he wants us to live as his sons and daughters.  The whole of salvation history echoes in these words.  He who was not subject to the law chose, out of love, to set aside every privilege and to appear in the most unexpected place in order to free us who were under the law.  What is so surprising is that God accomplishes this through the smallness and vulnerability of a newborn child.  He decides personally to draw near to us and in his flesh to embrace our flesh, in his weakness to embrace our weakness, in his littleness to envelop our littleness.  In Christ, God did not put on a human mask; instead he became man and shared completely in our human condition.  Far from remaining an idea or an abstract essence, he wanted to be close to all those who felt lost, demeaned, hurt, discouraged, inconsolable and frightened.  Close to all those who in their bodies carry the burden of separation and loneliness, so that sin, shame, hurt, despair and exclusion would not have the final word in the lives of his sons and daughters.

The manger invites us to make this divine “logic” our own.  It is not a logic centred on privilege, exemptions or favours but one of encounter and closeness.  The manger invites us to break with the logic of exceptions for some and exclusion for others.  God himself comes to shatter the chains of privilege that always cause exclusion, in order to introduce the caress of compassion that brings inclusion, that makes the dignity of each person shine forth, the dignity for which he or she was created.  A child in swaddling clothes shows us the power of God who approaches us as a gift, an offering, a leaven and opportunity for creating a culture of encounter.

We cannot allow ourselves to be naïve.  We know that we are tempted in various ways to adopt the logic of privilege that separates, excludes and closes us off, while separating, excluding and closing off the dreams and lives of so many of our brothers and sisters.

Today, before the little Child of Bethlehem, we should acknowledge that we need the Lord to enlighten us, because all too often we end up being narrow-minded or prisoners of all-or-nothing attitude that would force others to conform to our own ideas.  We need this light, which helps us learn from our mistakes and failed attempts in order to improve and surpass ourselves; this light born of the humble and courageous awareness of those who find the strength, time and time again, to rise up and start anew.

As another year draws to an end, let us pause before the manger and express our gratitude to God for all the signs of his generosity in our life and our history, seen in countless ways through the witness of those people who quietly took a risk.  A gratitude that is no sterile nostalgia or empty recollection of an idealized and disembodied past, but a living memory, one that helps to generate personal and communal creativity because we know that God is with us.

Let us pause before the manger to contemplate how God has been present throughout this year and to remind ourselves that every age, every moment is the bearer of graces and blessings.  The manger challenges us not to give up on anything or anyone.  To look upon the manger means to find the strength to take our place in history without complaining or being resentful, without closing in on ourselves or seeking a means of escape, looking for shortcuts in our own interest.  Looking at the manger means recognizing that the times ahead call for bold and hope-filled initiatives, as well as the renunciation of vain self-promotion and endless concern with appearances.

Looking at the manger means seeing how God gets involved by involving us, making us part of his work, inviting us to welcome the future courageously and decisively.

Looking at the manger, we see Joseph and Mary, their young faces full of hopes and aspirations, full of questions.  Young faces that look to the future conscious of the difficult task of helping the God-Child to grow.  We cannot speak of the future without reflecting on these young faces and accepting the responsibility we have for our young; more than a responsibility, the right word would be debt, yes, the debt we owe them.  To speak of a year’s end is to feel the need to reflect on how concerned we are about the place of young people in our society.

We have created a culture that idolizes youth and seeks to make it eternal.  Yet at the same time, paradoxically, we have condemned our young people to have no place in society, because we have slowly pushed them to the margins of public life, forcing them to migrate or to beg for jobs that no longer exist or fail to promise them a future.  We have preferred speculation over dignified and genuine work that can allow young people to take active part in the life of society.  We expect and demand that they be a leaven for the future, but we discriminate against them and “condemn” them to knock on doors that for the most part remain closed.

We are asked to be something other than the innkeeper in Bethlehem who told the young couple: there is no room here.  There was no room for life, for the future.  Each of us is asked to take some responsibility, however small, for helping our young people to find, here in their land, in their own country, real possibilities for building a future.  Let us not be deprived of the strength of their hands, their minds, and their ability to prophesy the dreams of their ancestors (cf. Jl 2:28).  If we wish to secure a future worthy of them, we should do so by staking it on true inclusion: one that provides work that is worthy, free, creative, participatory and solidary (cf. Address at the Conferral of the Charlemagne Prize, 6 May 2016).

Looking at the manger challenges us to help our young people not to become disillusioned by our own immaturity, and to spur them on so that they can be capable of dreaming and fighting for their dreams, capable of growing and becoming fathers and mothers of our people.

As we come to the end of this year, we do well to contemplate the God-Child!  Doing so invites us to return to the sources and roots of our faith.  In Jesus, faith becomes hope; it becomes a leaven and a blessing.  “With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, Christ makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew” (Evangelii Gaudium, 3)

(from Vatican Radio)

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Pope sends message for new Argentine edition of Osservatore Romano

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis has written a message for the first edition of the weekly Osservatore Romano newspaper for Argentina.

The first issue of the new Spanish edition was published on 30 December 2016 with the headline: “The Service of the Pope”.

The handwritten message by Pope Francis was printed on the front page, wherein the Holy Father recognized the newspaper as a “project at the service of the Kingdom of God”.

His message read: “With joy I greet the new presence of the Osservatore Romano in Argentina. Through the Holy See’s newspaper, [readers] will be able to become directly acquainted with the service of the Pope. I pray that our Lord bless all who labor in this project at the service of the Kingdom of God, and that the Virgin Mary watch over them. And, please, I ask all readers not to forget to pray for me.”

(from Vatican Radio)

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Some 4 million received by Pope Francis in Vatican in 2016

As always, to coincide with the end of the year, the Prefecture of the Papal Household has published a note summing up the participation of the faithful during meetings and audiences with the Pope in the Vatican.

It notes that in the course of the year 2016 Pope Francis received some 4 million people.

That’s counting General and Special Audiences, Jubilee Audiences, liturgical celebrations, Angelus and Regina Coeli.

March and September were the months with the highest numbers of faithful present in the Vatican during the Pope’s activities – in March during Holy week, and in September for the canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. 

It is clear that the numbers refer uniquely to the Pope’s activities inside the Vatican and do not include visits to Rome Dioceses or apostolic visits and journeys to Italy and abroad, where Pope Francis met with millions of people.

(from Vatican Radio)

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Pope Francis: General Audience summary

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis held his weekly General Audience on Wednesday – the Wednesday in the Octave of Christmas, and the final General Audience of the calendar year, 2016.

The Gospel reading upon which the main catechetical portion of the Audience focused was taken from the 15th chapter of the Book of Genesis, verses 3-6, in which we hear of God’s covenant with Abraham:

Abram said, “Behold, thou hast given me no offspring; and a slave born in my house will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; your own son shall be your heir.”  And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.

In the English-language summary read out after the main catechesis, the pilgrims and tourists present were encouraged to look to Abraham – our Father in faith – as a model of for our lives even today.

Dear Brothers and Sisters:  Our continuing catechesis on Christian hope leads us in these Christmas days to consider the example of Abraham, who, as Saint Paul tells us, “hoped against hope” in God’s promises.  Trusting in the Lord’s word that a son would be born to him, Abraham left his home for a new land.  Although the fulfilment of God’s promise was long delayed and seemed to be impossible, Abraham continued to hope.  Even his discouragement and complaints were a sign of his continuing trust in God.  Abraham, our father in faith, shows us that sure trust in God’s word does not mean that we will not have moments of uncertainty, disappointment and bewilderment.  It was at such a moment that God appeared to Abraham, called him forth from his tent and showed him the night sky shining with countless stars, assuring him that such would be the number of his descendants.  Hope is always directed to the future, to the fulfilment of God’s promises.  May the example of Abraham teach us not be afraid to go out from our own tents, our limited outlooks, and to lift our eyes to the stars.

(from Vatican Radio)

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Pope sends message to Taize youth gathering

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a message to young people from the ecumenical community of Taize, who are participating in a European Meeting of Young Adults taking place in Riga, Latvia, from 28 December to 1 January. It is the first time a European Meeting is taking place in a Baltic State.

The Holy Father’s letter to the young people dwelt especially on the virtue of hope. “The Pope is particularly close to you,” it said, “because he has often called you to not let anyone rob you of your hope.”

Pope Francis thanked them for leaving their “comfortable homes” to take part in the meeting in Riga. Their participation, he said, shows that they desire to be “protagonists of history,” and that they desire to not let others determine their future. He encouraged them “to stand firm in hope by letting the Lord live in your hearts and your daily lives,” saying, “with Jesus, the faithful friend who never disappoints, you will be able to walk along the path toward the future with joy, and devote your talents and abilities to the good of all.”

Precisely because so many people feel discouraged by violence and suffering, and believe that evil is “stronger than anything,” Pope Francis invited the young people “to show in your words and deeds that evil is not the last word in our history.”

Pope Francis expressed his hope that the meeting in Riga would help young people to not be afraid of their limits, but “to grow in trust in Jesus, who believes and hopes in you.” Invoking the simplicity of Brother Roger, the founder of the Taize community, he prayed that the young people might “build bridges of friendship and make visible the love with which God loves us.”

Below, please find the full text of Pope Francis’ letter to the young people of the Taize community who are meeting in Riga:

Dear young people,

Coming from every part of Europe, and from a number of other continents, several thousand of you have gathered in Riga, Latvia, for the 39th meeting organized and led by the Taizé Community. With the theme of bearing witness to hope that will be at the heart of your reflection and prayers, Pope Francis is particularly close to you because he has often called you to not let anyone rob you of your hope. During the WYD prayer vigil in Kraków he strongly emphasized this essential reality of the Christian faith: “At the moment when the Lord calls us, he looks at all that we might be able to do, all the love we are capable of sharing. He always wagers on the future, on tomorrow. Jesus urges you on toward the horizon, never toward the museum” (30 July 2016).

The Holy Father thanks you for choosing to leave your comfortable homes to live out this pilgrimage of trust in response to the call of God’s Spirit.

Young Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic Christians, by these days lived in real fraternity you manifest your desire to be protagonists of history and not let others decide your future. The Pope encourages you to stand firm in hope by letting the Lord live in your hearts and your daily lives. With Jesus, the faithful friend who never disappoints, you will be able to walk along the path toward the future with joy and devote your talents and abilities for the good of all.

Today, many people are disconcerted and discouraged by violence, injustice, suffering and divisions. They have the impression that evil is stronger than anything. Therefore, Pope Francis invites you to show in your words and deeds that evil is not the last word in our history. For “it is the time of mercy for each and all, since no one can think that he or she is cut off from God’s closeness and the power of his tender love” (Apostolic Letter, Misericordia and Misera, section 21).

The Pope hopes that these days that bring you together in Riga will help you not to be afraid of your limits but to grow in trust in Jesus, the Christ and Lord, who believes and hopes in you. May you, in the simplicity to which Brother Roger bore witness, build bridges of friendship and make visible the love with which God loves us.

From the depths of his heart, the Holy Father gives you his blessing, to you young people participating in this meeting, to the Brothers of Taizé, and to all the people who welcome you in Riga and the surrounding region.

(from Vatican Radio)

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Pope Francis: St Stephen’s Day Angelus

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis on Monday called on Christians to “overcome evil with good and hatred with love.”  In a tweet marking the Feast of Saint Stephen, the Church’s first martyr, the Pope said, “let us remember the martyrs of today and yesterday.” It was a theme the Holy Father picked up in his Angelus address to the thousands of pilgrims who had gathered in St. Peter’s Square on this, the day after Christmas.

Here is Vatican Radio’s translation of the Pope’s remarks at the Angelus 26 December 2016:

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

The joy of Christmas also fills our hearts today, as the liturgy has us celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, the first martyr, inviting us to receive the witness that through his sacrifice he has left us. It is the testimony with which his sacrifice became glorious, precisely the glory of Christian martyrdom, suffered for love of Jesus Christ; martyrdom which continues to be present in the history of the Church, since Stephen up to this day. 

Of this witness we are told in today’s Gospel (cf. Mt 10:17-22). Jesus forewarns his disciples of the rejection and persecution that they will encounter and he says this: “and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (v. 22). But why does the world persecute Christians? The world hates Christians for the same reason it hated Jesus because He brought the light of God and the world prefers the darkness to hide its wicked works. We remember that Jesus himself, at the Last Supper, prayed to the Father to defend him from the spirit of worldly wickedness. There is conflict between the mentality of the Gospel and that of the world. To follow Jesus means to follow his light, which was lit on that Bethlehem night, and to abandon the darkness of the world.

The first martyr Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, was stoned because he confessed his faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The only Son who comes into  the world invites every believer to choose the path of light and life. This is the meaning of his coming among us. Loving the Lord and obeying his voice, the deacon Stephen chose Christ, Life and Light for every man. By choosing the truth, he became at the same time, the victim of the mystery of evil present in the world. But in Christ, Stephen  triumphed!

Today too the Church, to bear witness to light and truth, experiences harsh persecution in different places, [to the point of] the supreme test of martyrdom. How many of our brothers and sisters in faith suffer abuse, violence, and are hated for Jesus’ sake! I’ll tell you something.  The martyrs of today are greater in number than those of the first centuries. When we read the history of the early centuries, here in Rome, we read about so much cruelty towards Christians.  I tell you, there is this same cruelty today, and in greater numbers with Christians.  Today we want to think about them and to be close to them with our affection, our prayer and our tears. Yesterday, Christmas Day, the persecuted Christians in Iraq celebrated Christmas in their destroyed Cathedral. [Theirs] is an example of fidelity to the Gospel. Despite the trials and the dangers, they bear witness with courage to their belonging to Christ and they live the Gospel committing themselves on behalf of the least, the most overlooked, doing good to all without distinction; they bear witness in this way to charity in truth.

In making space within our heart for the Son of God who gives himself to us at Christmas, we renew the joyous and courageous willingness to follow him faithfully as our only guide, persevering in living in accordance with the Gospel mentality and refusing the mentality of those who dominate this world.

To the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Martyrs, we raise our prayer, so that she may guide us and always sustain us in our journey of following Jesus Christ, whom we contemplate in the manger crib and that who is the faithful Witness of God the Father.

POST ANGELUS

After the Angelus, Pope Francis expressed his condolences to the Russian people and the families of victims of the Christmas day plane crash that took the lives of 92 people near Sochi.

I express my sincere condolences for the sad news of the Russian plane that crashed into the Black Sea.  May the Lord console the dear Russian people and the families of the passengers who were on board: journalists, crew and the excellent choir and orchestra of the armed forces.  May the blessed Virgin Mary sustain the search operations underway.  In 2004, the choir performed in the Vatican for the 26th year of the pontificate of Saint John Paul II.  Let us pray for them

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

in the climate of Christian joy that emanates from the Birth of Jesus, I greet you and thank you for your presence.

To all of you who have come from Italy and from different Nations, I renew my good wishes for peace and serenity: may these, for you and for your family, be days of joy and brotherhood. Greetings and I send best wishes to all of the people named Stephen or Stefanie!

In recent weeks I have received many well-wishing messages from around the world. Not being possible for me to answer each one, I express my heartfelt thanks to all today, especially for the gift of prayer. Thank you so much!  May the Lord reward you with his generosity!

Have a happy feast day! Please do not forget to pray for me. Enjoy your lunch and goodbye.

(from Vatican Radio)

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Pope Francis: prayer, solidarity with suffering Christians

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Monday called for prayerful and concrete solidarity with Christians throughout the world suffering because of the faith.

The Holy Father’s appeal came in remarks ahead of the Angelus prayer on Monday, the Feast of St. Stephen the Deacon, who was the first Christian to give his life in witness to Christ.

“The protomartyr Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, was stoned because he confessed his faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” said Pope Francis. “The only begotten Son who comes into the world invites every believer to choose the path of light and life,” he continued. “This is the profound meaning of his coming among us: loving the Lord and obeying his voice, the deacon Stephen chose Christ, [who is] Life and Light for every man.”

Pope Francis went on to say, “By choosing the truth, he became at the same time the victim of the mystery of evil present in the world – but Christ has conquered.”

Pope Francis then spoke of the plight of Christians suffering all manner of adversity for the sake of the Gospel.

“Today too the Church, to bear witness to the light and the truth, is experiencing severe persecution in different places, up to the supreme test of martyrdom,” he said. “How many of our brothers and sisters in faith suffer abuse, violence, and are hated because of Jesus,” he reflected. “Today we want to think about them and be close to them with our affection, our prayer, and also our tears.”

“Despite trials and dangers,” he continued, “they bear witness with courage that they belong to Christ, and they live the Gospel, dedicated to the least, the forgotten, doing good to all without distinction; they bear witness to charity in truth.”

The Holy Father concluded his remarks ahead of the traditional prayer of Marian devotion, with a call for renewed commitment to living the faith we profess as Christians.

“In making space within our heart to the Son of God who gives himself to us at Christmas,” he said, “let us renew the joyous and courageous willingness to follow him faithfully as our only guide, persevering in living according to the mind of the Gospel and refusing the mentality of the rulers of this world.”

Pope Francis then asked the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Martyrs, to intercede for us and for all Christians everywhere, asking her to accompany and sustain us always in our pilgrim way, as we live our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness to God the Father, and the one whom we contemplate in the crèche.

(from Vatican Radio)

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Pope prays for victims of Russian plane crash

(Vatican Radio) After the Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square on the Feast of Saint Stephen, Pope Francis expressed his condolences to the Russian people and the families of victims of the Christmas day plane crash that took the lives of 92 people near Sochi.

“I express my sincere condolences for the sad news of the Russian plane that crashed into the Black Sea,” the Pope said.  “May the Lord console the dear Russian people and the families of the passengers who were on board: journalists, crew and the excellent choir and orchestra of the armed forces.  May the blessed Virgin Mary sustain the search operations underway.  In 2004, the choir performed in the Vatican for the 26th year of the pontificate of Saint John Paul II.  Let us pray for them.”

(from Vatican Radio)

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